Pilot experiences Red Flag for first time

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Capt. Kyle Benham, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II fighter jet pilot, stands in front of an F-35A at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 18, 2019. Benham participated in his first Red Flag at Nellis to improve combat readiness as a pilot with a multitude of different partners.

Capt. Kyle Benham, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II fighter jet pilot, participated in his first Red Flag March 8-22 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Benham took part in Red Flag 19-2 to increase his experience with coalition forces from across the globe and improve on his skills in an F-35A in a mass exercise that pushes even the best fighter pilots to their limits, especially for those at Red Flag for the first time.

“The goal for me in this exercise is to think beyond just my aircraft and get into the big picture of how I can help 60 plus aircraft in the mission,” said Benham.
Benham discussed further how Red Flag itself could be a monster.

“Nellis is the location everyone talks about,” said Benham. “There’s a lot of history and tactics that come out of here. As far as Red Flag itself, it’s one of the premiere exercises that a pilot can participate in. If there is any intimidating part of Red Flag, it’s that you’re going to jam 60 to 70 aircraft in a confined space. Thus, forcing everyone to work as a team to solve whatever tactical problem presented.”

Ten other nations will make up all the aircraft in the sky for Rad Flag 19-2.

“The hardest factor will be that coalition partners bring something different such as tactics or the way they communicate them. Making sure that we are all on the same page so we can execute the mission in a real-life scenario.”

As Benham progressed through Red Flag, he noticed minor improvements as the U.S. and its partners worked together.

Capt. Kyle Benham, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II fighter jet pilot, taxis down the ramp for take-off during Red Flag 19-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., March 20, 2019. Benham previously had 72 hours in the F-35A before Red Flag but accumulated much more experience after flying five times during the exercise.

“One of the areas I noticed an improvement in is the integration with other aircraft and platforms while airborne,” said Benham. “It is awesome to see the improvement in communication from day one to now, going into the second week, going from some miscommunication to being able to pass and receive information between aircraft for dynamic targeting in a short amount of time.”

Without a doubt, Red Flag has changed over the years, but some legacies have never changed.

“I feel blessed to have the opportunity, especially because my grandfather was a fighter pilot and the legacy he carried,” said Benham. “Being able to see everything he experienced in his time compared to now. It means a lot to me that the Air Force would take the time and money to put an exercise together, such as Red Flag, so we can have the experience we need to prepare us for real life conflicts.”

Red Flag is conducted three times at Nellis AFB and enhances combat readiness of air forces around the world. The next Red Flag is scheduled for summer 2019.